Seoul:Kim Jong-Un urged North Korea to mass-produce nuclear warheads and missiles in a defiant New Year message on Monday suggesting that he would continue to accelerate a rogue weapons programme that has stoked international tensions.
Pyongyang dramatically ramped up its efforts to become a nuclear power in 2017, despite a raft of international sanctions and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States.
Kim, who said on Monday that he always had a nuclear launch button on his desk, had presided over multiple missile tests in recent months and the North’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test–which it said was a hydrogen bomb–in September.
“We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment,” said Kim in his annual address to the nation, reiterating his claims that North Korea had achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state.
The North says its weapons programme is designed to be able to target the US mainland and tested increasingly longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) throughout 2017.
US President Donald Trump has responded to each test with his own amplified declarations, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim, saying the North Korean leader was on “a suicide mission”.
But far from persuading Kim to give up his nuclear drive, analysts say Trump’s tough talk may have prompted the North Korean leader to drive through with his dangerous quest.
“(The North) can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the US and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the US from playing with fire,” Kim said.
“The nuclear button is always on my table. The US must realise this is not blackmail but reality.”
His comments come after a former top US military officer warned that the United States is now closer than it had ever been to a nuclear war with the North, with little hope of a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said the Trump presidency had helped create “an incredibly dangerous climate”, in an interview on ABC’s ‘This Week’.
“We’re actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been,” he said.
Pyongyang claims it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from a hostile US and sees American military activities in the region–such as the joint drills it takes part in with the South–as a precursor to invasion.
As tensions spiked in the region in recent months, the international community has slapped a range of sanctions on the North aimed at curbing its weapons programme and squeezing the country’s leadership.
US Congress committee urges India to end communication blackout in Kashmir
India’s communication blackout is having a “devastating impact” on the lives and welfare of the people of Kashmir, a powerful U.S. Congressional Committee has said, urging New Delhi to lift its more than two-month long restrictions in the Valley.
Restrictions were first imposed across Kashmir on August 5 when the Centre announced its decision to revoke all provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Normal life has remained affected in Kashmir for over two months as main markets continue to be shut and public transport off the roads.
Mobile services remain suspended in Kashmir except in Handwara and Kupwara areas in the north, while Internet services — across all platforms continued to be snapped in the Valley since August 5.
“India’s communication blackout in Kashmir is having a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of everyday Kashmiris,” House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a tweet on Monday.
“Its time for India to lift these restrictions and afford Kashmiris the same rights and privileges as any other Indian citizen,” it said.
The House committee comes nearly a month after Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal, along with 13 other US Congressmen, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir and lift the communications blackout.
The Asia-Pacific and Non-Proliferation Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on human rights in Kashmir and other parts of South Asia on October 22.
India has categorically told the international community that its move to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution was an internal matter and has also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.
Pakistan appoints Munir Akram as UN envoy
n a major reshuffle of diplomats, Pakistan on Monday removed Maleeha Lodhi and appointed Munir Akram as the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
The development came merely a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan returned from the US, where he raised the Kashmir issue in his maiden address to the UN General Assembly last week.
“Ambassador Munir Akram has been appointed as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, in place of Dr Maleeha Lodhi,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
However, it gave no reason for her removal.
In his speech that went on for about 50 minutes, far exceeding the 15-minute limit for UN speeches during the General Debate, Khan devoted half of his address to the Kashmir issue, warning that if there’s face-off between two nuclear-armed neighbours, the consequences would be far beyond their borders.
His war rhetoric was in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s peace message from the same podium few minutes earlier in which he said India is a country, that has “given the world, not war, but Buddha’s message of peace.”
Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue after India withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, but New Delhi has asserted the abrogation of Article 370 was its “internal matter”.
The Foreign Office statement said Akram would be stationed at the UN’s New York headquarters.
He is an experienced hand who served as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN from 2002 to 2008.
He was dismissed by the then president Asif Ali Zardari over his disagreement in presenting the case of assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the United Nations.
Akram had also courted controversy after he was accused of domestic violence by his partner, Marijana Mihic, in December 2002 while serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN. The case was reportedly settled out of the court and he was not charged with the crime due to his diplomatic immunity.
Akram specialises in multilateral diplomacy with considerable experience over the years at the UN’s New York and Geneva chapters. He studied at the Karachi University and graduated with a Masters degree in Political Science and a Bachelors in Law, the statement said.
Among other transfers approved by the prime minister include appointment of Khalil Ahmad Hashmi, presently serving as Director General (UN) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), as Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN in Geneva.
Besides, Muhammad Aejaz, Additional Secretary at MoFA, has been appointed as Hungary Ambassador; Syed Sajjad Haider, serving as Charge d’ Affaires in Pyongyang, as Kuwait Ambassador; Imran Ahmad Siddiqui, serving as Consul General in Toronto, as Dhaka High Commissioner; Ahsan KK Wagan, serving as Charge d’ Affaires in Niamey, as Ambassador of Oman; and Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak as Sri Lankan High Commissioner.
Other appointments include Abdul Hamid as Consul General in Toronto and Abrar Hussain Hashmi as Consul General in Houston.
US lawmakers urge PM Modi to lift communications blackout in Kashmir
Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal along with 13 other US Congressmen have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir and lift the communications blackout.
A statement, addressed to Prime Minister Modi, was issued jointly by Congressmen Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr, Judy Chu, Pramila Jayapal, Carolyn Maloney, Gerald Connolly, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, Al Green, Zoe Lofgren, Andy Levin, Mike Levin, James P. McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, and Katie Porter.
“On behalf of thousands of families across the country who have been unable to contact family in Jammu and Kashmir, we are urging Prime Minister Modi to lift the communications blackout and address the ongoing humanitarian concerns,” the lawmakers said in the joint statement.
Restrictions were imposed when New Delhi had on August 5 scrapped the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated in into Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Asserting that the abrogation of Article 370 of its Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was its “internal matter”, India has defended imposition of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley on the grounds that they were put to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists.
“India is an important US partner and the world’s largest democracy. As such, we hope that the Government of India will demonstrate leadership and lift these restrictions. The people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve the same rights as any other citizen of India,” the statement said.
The joint statement, the lawmakers said, is in response to the imposition of media blackout starting August 5, leaving millions in Jammu and Kashmir without access to mobile phones or the internet while many others have been detained.
“As a result, family members in the United States and elsewhere have had no ability to contact loved ones in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to concerns about their welfare,” said the statement, the lead in which was taken by Congressman Cisneros, who is a Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and an Executive Board Member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
The restrictions in Kashmir have been lifted in phases from many parts of the Valley as the situation improved with passage of time.